Number the Stars
diseased aunt! Open it after we leave," he said.
    With one gloved thumb he pressed a candle flame into darkness. The hot wax spattered the table. "Put all these candles out/' he said, "or pull the curtains."
    Then he strode to the doorway and left the room. Motionless, silent, one hand to her cheek, Mama listened—they all listened—as the uniformed men left the house. In a moment they heard the car doors, the sound of its engine, and finally they heard it drive away.
    "Mama!" Annemarie cried.
    Her mother shook her head quickly, and glanced at the open window covered only by the sheer curtain. Annemarie understood. There might still be soldiers outside, watching, listening.
    Peter stood and drew the dark curtains across the windows. He relit the extinguished candle. Then he reached for the old Bible that had always been there, on the mantel. He opened it quickly and said, "I will read a psalm."
    His eyes turned to the page he had opened at random, and he began to read in a strong voice.
O praise the Lord.

How good it is to sing psalms to our God!

How pleasant to praise him!

The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem;

he gathers in the scattered sons of Israel.

It is he who heals the broken in spirit

and binds up their wounds,

he who numbers the stars one by one...
    Mama sat down and listened. Gradually they each began to relax. Annemarie could see the old man across the room, moving his lips as Peter read; he knew the ancient psalm by heart.
    Annemarie didn't. The words were unfamiliar to her, and she tried to listen, tried to understand, tried to forget the war and the Nazis, tried not to cry, tried to be brave. The night breeze moved the dark curtains at the open windows. Outside, she knew, the sky was speckled with stars. I low could anyone number them one by one, as the psalm said? There were too many. The sky was too big.
    Ellen had said that her mother was frightened of the ocean, that it was too cold and too big.
    The sky was, too, thought Annemarie. The whole
world
was: too cold, too big. And too cruel.
    Peter read on, in his firm voice, though it was clear he was tired. The long minutes passed. They seemed hours.
    Finally, still reading, he moved quietly to the window. He closed the Bible and listened to the quiet night. Then he looked around the room. "Now," he said, "it is time."
    First he closed the windows. Then he went to the casket and opened the lid.

11. Will We See You Again Soon, Peter?
    Annemarie blinked. Across the dark room, she saw Ellen, too, peering into the narrow wooden box in surprise.
    There was no one in the casket at all. Instead, it seemed to be stuffed with folded blankets and articles of clothing.
    Peter began to lift the things out and distribute them to the silent people in the room. He handed heavy coats to the man and wife, and another to the old man with the beard.
    "It will be very cold," he murmured. "Put them on." He found a thick sweater for Mrs. Rosen, and a woolen jacket for Ellen's father. After a moment of rummaging through the folded things, he found a smaller winter jacket, and handed it to Ellen.
    Annemarie watched as Ellen took the jacket in her arms and looked at it. it was patched and worn. It was true that there had been few new clothes for anyone during the recent years; but stilt, Ellen's mother had always managed to make clothes for her daughter, often using old things that she was able to take apart and refashion in a way that made them seem brand-new. Never had Ellen worn anything so shabby and old.
    But she put it on, pulled it around her, and buttoned the mismatched buttons.
    Peter, his arms full of the odd pieces of clothing, looked toward the silent couple with the infant. "I'm sorry," he said to them. "There is nothing for a baby."
    "I'll find something," Mama said quickly. "The baby must be warm." She left the room and was back in a moment with Kirsti's thick red sweater.
    "Here," she said softly to the mother. "It will be much too big, but that will make it even

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